The Eco Art of Joan Perlman: Nature’s Primal Energies

Artist Joan Perlman highlights nature’s primal energies in her work

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Ever since sustainability became the core issue of the 21st century, multiple disciplines focused their efforts to convey the importance of saving our planet. Environmental Art has been creatively active in embracing a variety of artistic practices that portray humankind’s rapport with – and dependence on – nature. This phenomena is one of the focal points of exhibitions all over the world, showing artists who blend social and ecological messages with mixed media oeuvres.

In the past Eluxe has featured eco-artists who used a wide variety of methods to convey their message, from using salt as an artistic medium, to altering Disney illustrations to portray how we are  doomed by  climate change and pollution.

This time, we focus on an environmental artist whose most recent works are featured at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in the exhibit A Sky In The Palm Of A Hand:  Joan Perlman.


Joan Perlman,  Untitled, 2009. Acrylic, enamel on duralar,  25 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist

Joan Perlman’s interest lies in the transformative and metamorphic forces that can be found in the Earth’s terrain, revealing the impermanent and transitory qualities of the natural world. Her approach, though, is through ethereal light, colour, texture, and forms captured by her lens and painted brush strokes.


Joan Perlman,  Glass Palace Cove, 2011. Acrylic, enamel on duralar,  20 x 40 inches.  Courtesy of the artist

Perlman, originally from New York, works in painting and video and when it comes to finding eco-inspiration, Iceland is her country of choice – as can be seen in her recent work. She explains: “For two decades I’ve been inspired by the primal energy of nature and vast spaces of the far north, especially volcanic Iceland. The inevitable experience of observing nature over an extended period of time in this bellwether region of the earth is the troubling presence of climate change, that receded glaciers, changed river patterns and so.


Joan Perlman,  Untitled,  2016. Acrylic, silkscreen on paper,  22 x 30  inches.  Courtesy of the artist

Iceland’s topography – as an outcome of the alchemy of volcanic energy reacting with water and rock – has been the muse for her exquisite videos, photographs, mono-prints and paintings. The subarctic lands that inspire her Å“uvre are the offshoot of aerial video and photographs captured by Perlman during flights in small aircrafts over Iceland’s remote highlands. She also includes scientific documentation from glaciologists to inspire her in depicting the forces of melting glaciers as they morph the land, the mutability of water and earth.


Joan Perlman,  Break  (installation view),  2016.  TRT  4:37,  HD digital video, 16:9 format.  Soundtrack composed by Laurie Spiegel. Courtesy Pasadena Museum of California Art, photo ©2016 Don Milici


Perlman’s latest abstract paintings are powerful windows to these earthly forces, created by meandering acrylics with metallic paints; pouring and dripping colour on the large canvases. The resplendent chemistry betwixt pigments and varnishes, embraces landscape as source and subject, and examines the complex relationship between culture and nature.


Joan Perlman,  Untitled, 2007. Acrylic, latex on canvas,  102 x 75  inches.  Courtesy of the artist

By focusing on the evolution of geological forces, Perlman grasps the ineluctable changes in the Earth’s landscape. As a contemporary environmental artist, she opens our eyes on nature’s entropy: the silted waterfall, liquid soil, the frozen scape, the owing sediments, the transformation of magma, the undoing of glaciers, and the morphing of the coastlines.


Joan Perlman,  Untitled, 2008. Acrylic, enamel on duralar,  25 x 40  inches.  Courtesy of the artist

The artist  has a hopeful idea on how her artwork can bring attention to the important matters facing the planet today. She explains: “I hope to bring curiosity and awareness about the natural world and its fragility into consciousness, as a means of meditation and reflection on its mysteries and wonder.  


Joan Perlman,  Untitled, 2012. Acrylic, mixed media on Yupo, 34 x 52  inches.  Courtesy of the artist

Whether this  conscious and conscientious artist believes she can make a difference or not through her environmental art, she has truly succeed in bringing audiences closer to our planet’s precarious situation with her beautiful works.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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